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North Coast Opportunities Receives USDA Grant to Increase Local Foods in School Cafeterias

Friday, December 19, 2014

North Coast Opportunities is pleased to announce that it has been chosen as one of  82 project sites spanning 42 states and the Virgin Islands to receive support this year through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm to School Program, an effort to better connect school cafeterias and students with local farmers and ranchers. The $100,000 grant will impact up to 2,000 Mendocino County middle school students across three school districts and four middle schools in Ukiah, Redwood Valley, Willits, and Fort Bragg. It will also support three educational farms in Mendocino County: Brookside School Farm and The Grange Farm School in Willits, and the Noyo Food Forest in Fort Bragg. The goals of the grant are to increase procurement and utilization of local produce in school meals, increase farm production capacity, and increase student participation in school meals.

“USDA is proud to support communities across the country as they plan and implement innovative farm to school projects,” said USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Community partners are coming together to ensure a bright and healthy future for students, local farmers, and ranchers. These inspiring collaborations create long-term benefits for students as they develop a meaningful understanding of where food comes from, and support our farmers and ranchers by expanding market opportunities for local and regional foods.”  

USDA's Farm to School Program is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which authorized USDA to provide grants and technical assistance to help schools gain better access to local foods. For a complete list of fiscal year 2015 Farm to School grant recipients, please see: http://www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/grant-awards.

NCO will use this USDA support service grant, playfully dubbed “Farm to COOL” (Cultivating Options for Our Lunch), to focus intensively on middle school students. Middle school is the time when lunch participation tends to drop off, as school cafeterias are no longer considered “cool” places to be. Until now, Mendocino County middle school students have not received the concentrated attention that could change this perception. For example, elementary students have opportunities to join farm field trips and are more likely to eat in cafeterias, while middle schools have lower meal participation, less parent involvement, and fewer opportunities for enrichment through field trips.

During the 13-month Farm to COOL project, Student Councils and after-school program participants will be engaged to ensure this is a student-directed effort. For example, students will conduct surveys and help coordinate peer-targeted marketing campaigns to promote school menus. Additionally, students and parents will learn about how food is grown by visiting educational farms for “Meet the Farmers” and “Family Farm Work Day” events. Students will also engage with their own food service staff through fun “Meet the Cooks” events at each school.

“This grant is a tremendous opportunity to connect with middle schoolers and show them just how cool food can be,” says Farm to COOL Project Coordinator Megan Watson. “If we can continue to instill the values of eating healthy, local food that we start teaching in elementary school, we’ll have a much better chance of making sure these kids grow up with those values intact.”

Over the past decade, NCO has leveraged relationships with numerous community partners to revitalize the local food system by supporting renewed food production, distribution and infrastructure, marketing and promotion, and nutrition education. As a result, local production is increasing, as is community demand for and access to healthy local foods. “We’re excited to add the Farm to COOL project to our local food system efforts,” says NCO Executive Director Patty Bruder. “It aligns with our mission at NCO to empower people through community action, and it’s wonderful to be able to work directly with a younger generation.” For more information on NCO, visit www.ncoinc.org or call (707) 467-3200.

Program(s) Involved: Community Wellness Projects